A former Central African Republic militia leader nicknamed “Colonel Rambo” arrived on Saturday in The Hague, where he will stand trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court.
Currently a lawmaker, Alfred Yekatom’s extradition was the first of its kind from the CAR.
“The suspect arrived in the detention centre”, said ICC spokesman Fadi El Abdallah of the former army officer, who was the target of US sanctions in 2015 for suspected attacks against Muslims, civilian deaths, and for using child fighters.
After being elected to parliament in 2016, Yekatom, 43, was arrested in October for opening fire inside the legislature while its new president was being elected.
ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda welcomed the extradition, saying it “advances the cause of justice in the Central African Republic” and promising that she would continue to pursue her “quest for truth and justice”.
Pierre Brunisso from the International Federation of Human Rights watchdog added that it sent “a strong message to the leaders of armed groups”.
“Those who think they can claim an amnesty at the negotiating table are mistaken,” he said.
The ICC said Yekatom would be tried for “alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity” carried out by so-called anti-balaka militias.
The court launched an investigation in September 2014 into crimes committed in the country since 2012.
A three-judge bench of The Hague-based court’s pre-trial chamber issued an arrest warrant against Yekatom last Sunday.
“The Chamber is satisfied that the overall supporting evidence is sufficient to establish reasonable grounds that Yekatom bears criminal responsibility,” the judges said in the warrant, made public by the ICC late on Saturday.
This included acts of murder, torture, deportation and using child soldiers younger than 15 years in the anti-balaka group between December 5, 2013 and August 2014.
In continuing violence the CAR, however, a Tanzanian peacekeeper died late Friday after an attack on a United Nations base and a priest was found burned to death, the UN and the Catholic Church said after sectarian clashes that claimed nearly 40 lives.
The soldier died of injuries sustained in the raid on the base in Gbambia in the country’s west, the UN mission MINUSCA said.
An armed group called Siriri, created this year by Fulani cattle herders, operates in the area. Led by a man named Ardo Abba, its purported aim is to thwart attacks by cattle rustlers.
The UN said the group had attacked Gbambia in mid-June. A Tanzanian UN peacekeeper died that month after Siriri staged an ambush in the region.
Meanwhile, the priest’s charred body was recovered in the central town of Alindao, Father Mathieu Bondobo, vicar-general of the main cathedral in Bangui, told AFP.
On Friday, the UN said 37 deaths were confirmed in Alindao — including that of another priest — while 20,000 people were affected by the violence. “Thousands” were forced to flee.
The bloodletting began Thursday when Christian militiamen killed Muslims, prompting revenge attacks during which a church was set ablaze.
Alindao is a stronghold of the Union for Peace in CAR (UPC), a Muslim militia. It has witnessed chronic fighting in recent months that has also killed other UN soldiers and a humanitarian aid worker.
One of the world’s poorest nations despite a rich supply of diamonds and uranium, the CAR has struggled to recover from a 2013 civil war that erupted when President Francois Bozize, a Christian, was overthrown by mainly Muslim Seleka rebels.
In response, Christians, who account for about 80 percent of the population, organised vigilante units dubbed “anti-balaka” in reference to a type of machete.
In September, the UN warned of a “disastrous” humanitarian situation in the region, which it said was under the control of armed groups.
The government controls only a small part of the country.
The UN has about 12,500 personnel deployed in the CAR as part of its MINUSCA mission, one of the world body’s largest peacekeeping forces.